‘Let’s get to the truth:’ Father of teen who fatally fell from Orlando FreeFall thrill ride speaks

Tyre Sampson fell from ride while visiting on spring break

Tyre Sampson, 14, was visiting Orlando from Missouri for spring break when he died. Yarnell Sampson, the boy’s father, was joined by attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard for the 2 p.m. news conference.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The father of the teen who fatally fell from the Orlando FreeFall attraction last month spoke about his son’s death at ICON Park Tuesday in Orlando.

Tyre Sampson, 14, was visiting Orlando from Missouri for spring break when he died. Yarnell Sampson, the boy’s father, was joined by attorneys Ben Crump and Bob Hilliard for the 2 p.m. news conference.

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“The reason I’m here is to get some understanding and get a few asks, also to pay my respect for myself,” said Sampson, visiting the site of his son’s death for the first time. “There’s two ways I could go. I could go to depression and hide and let this just fall away, or I can stand up and do the right thing. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna speaking for my son because he was a warrior, he was a young man, intelligent, intellectual.”

Sampson initially found out about his son’s death from the video of his fall that has since gone viral.

“How I found out was through the Internet... I was getting off work and (my significant other) asked me to have a seat and she wanted to show me something... I was kinda sickly when I first seen it, but I didn’t even know it was my child. When I found out that was my child, it took the breath out of me. It took some life out of me as well.”

Hours after Nekia Dodd, the boy’s mother, held her own news conference from St. Louis, Sampson explained how they both wanted change for their child, threading the narrative of “Justice for Tyre.”

“We’re gonna do this together as a family, we’re gonna get through this and we both want change for our child and also we want this company to take accountability for their actions‚” Sampson said. “You know, it shouldn’t be profit over safety. It should be safety over profit.”

A lawsuit filed Monday alleges the ride’s operators should have known that riders could be “subject to unreasonably dangerous and foreseeable risks, and that serious injury and death of the occupants in the ride could result.”

Funtime Thrill Rides, the manufacturer; Slingshot Group, the owner-operator in Florida; and ICON Park, which leased the space, are among the defendants being sued in the lawsuit.

“Is the manufacturer partly responsible? We believe so. Absolutely. Does that absolve the operators’ culpability? We think not... this was a cascade of gross negligence on multiple parties’ parts. That’s why we have multiple defendants,” Crump said at the news briefing.

Sampson told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday the family is dealing with the boy’s death “day-by-day, second-by-second, minute-by-minute.” He said he hopes legal action can create change in the industry so no other parent suffers.

“At the end of the day, his legacy is gonna live on. As long as I got breath in my body to speak up for him, that’s what I’m gonna do,” Sampson said. “Let’s get to the truth.”

Attorneys for Sampson’s family said legal action was likely after an independent forensic engineering firm hired in the investigation into Sampson’s death found the operator of the thrill ride manually adjusted the sensors in the seat he was in, which made the ride unsafe.

“We hope that the golden age of rides that simulate danger and attract our children come to an end. The only hope now for Yarnell, for Tyree’s mom, is that the myth that these rides are safe and they just appear to be dangerous died that night with poor Tyree when he hit that concrete,” Hillard said.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried announced Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis’ findings nearly one month after the boy’s death. The firm’s 14-page report determined the ride itself did not have an electrical or mechanical failure but a manual adjustment in the seat he was in allowed the ride to operate even when it was unsafe.

[RELATED: View full coverage of the Orlando FreeFall investigation]

Fried said the operator of the Orlando FreeFall made “manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe” and allowed the harness’ restraint opening to be “almost double” of the normal opening range. The report shows the harness sensor of the seat Sampson was in was “manually loosened, adjusted, and tightened to allow a restraint opening of near 7 inches.”

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, was also in attendance at Tuesday’s news briefing, detailing what changes she and other state and local officials are bolstering safety requirements when it comes to amusement rides. She said she was “looking at the laws” to require more frequent inspections, intensive employee training and notification of state authorities any time there is an adjustment to an amusement ride.

The attorney for the company that operates the ride, Orlando Slingshot, released a statement about the lawsuit. It reads:

“Orlando Slingshot continues to fully cooperate with the State during its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded. We reiterate that all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided by the manufacturer of the ride were followed. We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry and we are also supportive of the concepts outlined by State Representative Geraldine Thompson to make changes to state law through the ‘Tyre Sampson Bill’ to prevent a tragic accident like this from ever happening again.”

About the Authors:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.